This summer, I will be taking the quintessential millennial post-graduation pilgrimage to Southeast Asia for about two months. I wanted to optimize my travel experience as much as possible and this involves traveling with no luggage other than a backpack. I’ve spent a lot of time these past months procrastinating on school responsibilities by planning out this trip and along the way have learned a few things about efficient and intentional travel which I’d like to share.
What to Pack
The best advice I have seen for packing for a trip such as this is to take a look at every item and ask What is the worst case scenario if I didn’t bring this? — If the answer to this question leads you to believe that it’s not an essential item (especially if it is heavy/large or is highly unlikely to be used), then simply don’t bring it and know that you will figure it out if needed. That being said, here is what I plan on bringing.
The backpack I will be using is the Tortuga Setout 45L, which is large and functional enough to carry all of my belongings but small enough to fit as a carry-on for flights. For shorter day trips from hostels, I plan to use the Tortuga Daypack, which is easily compressible.
This will depend heavily on where exactly you are traveling to, what time of the year, and what activities you plan on doing, but this is my list for a tropical summer climate.
- 3 t-shirts: I recommend merino wool shirts; they are comfortable, anti-bacterial, and last many uses before they need to be washed
- 2 button-up shirts: for more ‘formal’ occasions (temples, fancy restaurants, nightlife, etc.)
- 1 comfy sweater1 ultralight jacket: I can’t recommend Uniqlo’s Ultralight Jacket enough
- 2 pairs of shorts: chinos and running shorts
- 1 pair of swim shorts
- 2 pairs of pants: sweatpants for travel, and some jeans for everything else
- 7 pairs of underwear: don’t skimp on this.
- 7 pairs of socks: ‘Nuff said. again, don’t skimp on this. bring at least one pair of merino wool socks
- 3 pairs of shoes: a pair of athletic shoes, some boots, and flip slops (crucial for hostels)
- 1 belt
- 1 hat
- 1 pair of glasses & sunglasses
- hair trimmer & razor
- nail clippers
- laundry sheets: I opted for these laundry sheets which are eco-friendly and easy to pack for travel
- travel-size containers: mini shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, lotion, and sunscreen can be contained in these TSA approved containers
- first-aid kit: just in case — I got this one and am putting other things like EmergenC, Neosporin, and chapstick in it. ALSO, make sure you have anti-diarrhea medicine like loperamide
- supplements/medicines: to hold everything, I’ll be using this organizer
- castile soap: this stuff is amazing for travel; it’s very compact (liquid form), can be used for anything, is gentle on skin, and isn’t harmful to the environment
- deodorant: VERY important
- toiletries bag: this one from Muji is awesome — very compact, can be hung, and has lots of space
- mosquito spray: a good mozzie repellant is key in the summer
- sunblock: good to bring with you because it’s heavily upcharged in sunny/beachy areas
- macbook & charger
- micro-usb cable, usb3 cable, & iphone cable: cables to charge my phone, my hotspot, and my kindle. to save space you can get a universal cable like this
- universal wall adapter: I opted for this adapter, make sure to check if your appliances support different voltages — most modern products have built-in converters, see this guide for more clarification
- mobile hotspot: serves as my internet AND power bank see below section for the one I am using
- e-reader: I love my kindle — lightweight, visible in any lighting, and has all the space I will ever need
- passport & extra photos: extra photos are useful if you need more documents on the road such as visas. also, keep photocopies of your passport in case you lose it and need to verify your identity
- international driver’s license: important if you’d like to drive around other countries. see below for more information
- lock: most hostels have lockers but require you to bring your own lock, so this is crucial to keep your belongings safe
- travel pillow
- packable towel: I am using the PackTowl — anti-microbial, super compact, & dries very quickly
- umbrella & rain cover: crucial if you have expensive electronics and will be in rainy, tropical climates
- drysack: these can be used to hold dirty laundry and also protect your belongings near water
Misc. Things to Consider
Many countries will require you to have a travel visa to visit (while some allow you to stay for a given period but need a visa for longer periods) depending on the issuing country of your passport. This is a great tool you can use to find out what the visa requirements are for your given passport.
This great guide by WebMD is pretty comprehensive. Consult online resources, make an appointment with your general practitioner at least one month before your travel date, and then get the recommended vaccines and preventative medication.
Travel Insurance is pretty important to have in the unfortunate event that something happens to you, your plans, or your belongings during the trip. Based on my research, World Nomads seems to be the standard and most trusted option.
Having internet access is pretty important if you’re going somewhere unfamiliar, and you may not always find wifi. One option is to get a SIM card for every region you’re going to, but this may not be the best option if you…
- Don’t have an unlocked phone (me)
- Are traveling to many different regions and don’t want to deal with the hassle of purchasing several SIM cards (me)
- Might use multiple devices (also me)
Instead, what I am using instead is a portable wifi hotspot by Skyroam Solis. There are other options out there, but this one was relatively inexpensive, lightweight, and reliable. I used it for a week in Italy, and it got the job done.
General Travel Hacks
Pack efficiently — any space saved is useful. This includes using packing cubes to organize everything and opting to roll smaller articles of clothing.
Don’t overplan — buy the longer flights beforehand to save money, but for many places like Southeast Asia and Europe, you can travel regionally cheaply and on a whim. The last thing you want is to be beholden to an itinerary that you will likely want to change after learning more from people you meet along the way.
If you want to rent a motorbike or car in a foreign country, get an International Driving License! It’s cheap and easy to get in the USA at any AAA office.
If you are staying in hostels (which I heavily recommend to those wanting an inexpensive and social experience), invest in a sleeping mask and earplugs. Your well-rested future self will thank me.
To avoid hassle, make sure all prescription medication has your name on the container and is in a ziplock bag.
Download Google Maps and language translations for where you will be visiting before you get there, in case you cannot find signal/wifi in a pinch.