Travel in SE Asia: Packing Decisions

After 5 trips in South East Asia, I feel I have managed to somewhat streamline my packing strategy since the Summer of 2016, when I traveled to Malaysia and Thailand checking in a hard suitcase and carrying about 18 kg of weight. What a pain that turned out  to be!

This time I feel like sharing some of the wisdom I’ve acquired after making quite a few mistakes.

To be honest, my packing nowadays follows a very simple commandment: pack whatever will allow you to use only the cabin bagagge allowance. If you plan on using low cost carriers and their allowance is 7kg, carry no more than 8 or 8.5. But don’t check suitcase in , as that will mean higher travel costs (extra fees on Air Asia and the like) and increased waiting time in airports. And how much do you really need, anyway, that you cannot purchase for cheap at a street market or in 7-Eleven? 

So let me share a couple of specifics regarding what I carry and what I chose to leave behind.

1.- My musts

(Leaving aside obvious ones such as underwear, mobile phone and battery charger, that is.)

  • Jeans, a shirt and loafers. Just in case I visit a skybar – which I will at some point in some city.
  • A jacket, Harrington type. Laugh at me, but it’s so easy to be cold in trains, buses and airplanes. Plus, the pockets will let you decrease the weight from the carry-on if ever the low cost flight clerks decide to check its weight. Which they did once, believe me.
Kudos to my stylish jacket for keeping me warm in the tropics!
  • A hair/beard trimmer to shave my head. A baseball hat to protect my bald head from the sun and to hold my sunglasses when I’m not wearing them. Hair can be a problem, but lack thereof is not hassle-free.
  • Swimming trunks, Swimming goggles, running shoes. Trail runners better than road shoes, as they’ll d the job when hiking. I can’t imagine travel without access to free, fun physical activity, and in SE Asia that’s swimming first, hiking second, running third.
A hike is always welcome…more so if there’s a waterfall waiting!
  • My kindle reader, packed with both serious and lighthearted reads.
  • Flip-flops. In Thailand I used the comfy, posh type made of leather. In the Phils it was the cheapest I could get. Cheap dried fast and was OK for island hopping.
  • A lightweight dry-fast towel, like the ones sold at Decathlon.


2.- Things I’ve learned to do without

  • More than two T-shirts. More than two pairs of shorts – that’s denim for urban use and breathable hiking shorts for all use. Clothes are cheap in the SE Asia markets, so travel light on the way there.
Want clothes? Go to JJ in Bangkok!
  • Umbrellas. I lost one in Chiang Mai train station, then another one in Singapore, a few hours after having bought it. I can live without one, or so I feel. Since I travel with a backpack, I do carry a lightweight waterproof cover, though.
  • Cool sneakers. If they’re no good for running and not smart enough for a rooftop, I’m not interested.


3. Things I missed and had to get

Pen and paper. Sounds ludicrous, but in my last trip I found that bringing my old tablet computer was not such a good idea (Office failed, WIFI was unreliable) so I resorted to the writer’s classic tools for note-taking. What I can say? It was cheap and it worked.

Coffee, cookies and a travel writer’s notes


4.- Trolley suitcase or backpack?

I’ve done both. Trolley is great in airports, where there’s lots of walking to do and the wheels come in handy. It’s also great for carrying shirts and pants and keep them wrinkle-free. You also look cooler as you check in to hotels.  They’re a pain to roll on Asian sidewalks, though.

In my recent visit to the Philippines I opted for a change of strategy. I figured that a proper backpack would come in handy, especially with so many boats to board and nature to explore. And so I purchased a well-reviewed backpacker’s choice, that’s Osprey Farpoint 40, which seemed to offer the perfect combination of an ergonomic design to carry weight on my back and ease to store and organize my belongings – always in keeping with most airline size allowances for carry-on luggage.


Well, let’s stay I fell in love with the pack, and still am. I enjoy packing it, deciding what goes where, tightening the compressor straps to reduce volume and, definitely, having it on my back. What a keeper!

Me and my Osprey backpack at Magellan’s Cross, Cebu

And that’s my two cents on travel logistics for the day. I guess it all comes down to finding the right balance for you – but frankly, when it comes to independent travel in the  tropics, I can’t help but suggest that, as they say, less is more.

What are your thoughts on packing for travel? Have you also moved toward lighter?






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