What’s in my backpack: traveling to Southeast Asia

When we travel, our small backpack suddenly becomes everything we own. It’s our small world containing necessities, notes, recordings, thoughts, and to some extent: part of us (if you consider your clothes as part of who you are).

It is not only about the value it holds, but about the value it has to us, the emotional bonding we create with the things we rely on, and the usefulness of those items during travel. It allows us to keep the habits we like. A friend of mine used to travel with a ridiculously big portable coffee machine. Thanks to that we could always have his favorite coffee just the like he likes it, however it came at the cost of constant explanations at the customs that this is not a part of a ballistic missile. Maybe not all of you are aware, but actually Vietnam is nr 2 coffee exporter in the world, and there is a café every 10 meters here.

Personally I try to reduce the overall weight of my luggage, and I learned to travel around Asia in just 7 kilogram carry on luggage only, however I still carry a big flashlight, which I rarely use.

Although the things we carry differ, there is a pattern and we can easily break it down into some parts used commonly by everyone. Here it goes:

Core: Passport, money, documents.

Passport: of course essential item, with its visas. Make a scan of it and keep in separate place to use for hotel registration, or to speed up its retrieval in case of losing it.

Money: both, cash and electronics. Keep small bills for change, I suggest to have at least 2 different cards.

Documents: any other documents, that are important in your particular example; whether it is document proving your abilities or disabilities, additional ID and such. Travel insurance is a must. Keep the copy of it as well. Note down the addresses of your embassies in the countries you travel to.

Passport: traveling to Southeast Asia

Electronics: Laptop, tablet, camera, phone

Simply to stay connected during travel. Starting with a laptop, a common thing nowadays as the size and weight of this device reduced over last 10 years dramatically. An additional thing or the replacement for this could be a tablet, mainly for the media consumption, but it also allows you to browse the web and stay connected.

Camera: a symbol of a traveler, a must and I am probably the only person in the world traveling without it (I prefer writing things down as I see them rather).

Smartphone: to keep in touch, to use it for note taking, pictures, keeping the contacts. I don’t thing I know anyone who doesn’t have one.

Accessories: chargers, headphones, external memory, etc. It is important to keep those things organized, so often there is an extra bag to keep it safe and sound.

It is rather easy and cheap to stay connected in Southeast Asia: Vietnam has probably more WiFi spots than any country in Europe, also the price of additional memory cards is quite low, (be aware of commonly sold knock-offs though).

Electronics: Laptop, tablet, camera, phone

Clothing: underwear, layers, shoes

Depending on the area we travel but in general Southeast Asia is considered warm, so there is no need for a super thick jacket, however the raincoat is not a bad idea. Typically take at least 4 sets of underwear and 2 pairs of trousers.

One pair of flip flops, and one pair for casual walking around. It is up to the style of yours what do you usually wear, but in general I would suggest take less, as you can buy some clothes on the way, and the lighter you travel, the better for this region.

Toiletries; health, sanity, wellbeing

First aid: In case you have prescription medicine, it is strongly recommended to limit any pills, or medicines that are not absolutely necessary. First of all, it is safe enough in most areas, and the is a wide access to the pharmacies in the tourist areas, secondly the are numerous limitations of what kind of medicine you can and cannot carry for every country in the region, so for the sake of legal peace of mind, the less is better. Of course, some band aid, plasters, antibacterial skin cleaner, and some basic gastric support is ok. Painkillers are not so obvious as different substances are banned in some countries: read carefully the information available online before you travel, in case you really need to take some with you.

Stay Clean: Well, it is a personal thing, I know some people who don’t take much apart form a toothbrush, I also know some people carrying 3 kilograms of creams, lotions, cleaners, and they just do not carry a toothbrush as it is always provided by the hotels they stay in. 2 rules of thumb: keep the items in small sizes. 1 liter bottle of shampoo is probably not the best idea, second is remember that you can buy most things on the way. I would always recommend having a small pack of baby wet wipes, it is wonderful thing to use it in hot weather to clean and cool down the exposed part of the body, but also works as toilet paper, and shower if there is no other option.

Additional treats: some of use like to travel with a sleeping mask, some use face mask, inflatable pillow etc. as long as it is light and doesn’t take much space, why not, but if you traveled already with it, and didn’t have a chance to use it, then next time just leave it at home.

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All the other things:

As we are different, we have different needs and different ideas what to take with us for a journey. I carry the big flashlight, my friend never move without a portable coffee machine, I’ve seen people carrying flags, big boxes with dried food, even additional monitor for the laptop. It can be understood if you work on the way digital nomad style, and having an emergency snack is not a bad idea, but when it comes to food, Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia are so vast in food vendors, restaurants, small stalls, that it carrying your own food supplies is silly. Here you find it cheap and tasty. Southeast Asia is probably the most interesting place on earth in terms of food. Period.

Few tricks:

Apart from wet wipes I’ve mentioned, there are few more things good to take, which can save you a lot of hassle and make your travel more comfortable:

  • Notebook, pencil. Note down, sketch, play with it in a bus, on a plane. I call it sudden idea creator.
  • Small flashlight. Keychain style, waterproof. In case you need to pick up something you dropped down in a dark train, as a small bed light in a dorm, as an emergency light during the walk around the beach after sunset.
  • Spare pair of glasses if you use ones.
  • Zips: for quick repair, lock or keep things together. Weights nothing, makes wonders.
  • Duct tape: wrap a meter long strip around a an old credit card: turns you to a McGyver on the road.
  • Plastic zipbags. Keep your important staff in them. Documents, small electronics; even in your backpack suddenly get wet, it will save them.

The less you take with you, the more you can bring back, in your heart, in your mind, in your backpack.

See you in Southeast Asia.





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