What I Did and Didn’t Need While Backpacking Through Southeast Asia
Packing for a two-week vacation can be a daunting task. But what’s even more intimidating? Packing everything you need (or think you need) into just one small, carry on-size backpack. With summer around the corner and the busy season upon us, travelers around the globe are gearing up to head out on vacation. Having just returned from two weeks backpacking around Thailand and Cambodia, I learned firsthand which items were necessities and which I could have done without, but unfortunately I didn’t figure that out until I was already on the other side of the world. Before your next adventure, read below for my top five favorite things I packed, as well as some tips, tricks, and what I wished I had left at home.
PACK: LIGHT, AIRY TOPS
One of the best things I packed was a white crochet and fringed top from Forever 21 (pictured above), and there are multiple reasons why. First, it’s super lightweight and breezy, which are two clothing conditions that will help you beat the intense heat. Next, this top also saved me after I got sunburned, allowing me to go out in the sun while remaining somewhat covered up. Plus, if you plan on visiting any temples, you will need something with sleeves long enough to cover at least your shoulders and upper arms. A white tasseled top from H&M ($30; hm.com) would have been perfect, as well.
LEAVE BEHIND: DARK, LONG SLEEVED TOPS
While the sunny weather is one of Southeast Asia’s crowd-drawers, the heat can sometimes be overwhelming. I packed a couple of darker-hued tops and found them to be a waste of space, as I almost always chose a light colored piece instead. If you do bring any dark colored items, I would opt for short sleeved or cropped—the less material the better! I also learned that mosquitos may be more drawn to dark clothing, and I didn’t want to attract them any more than necessary.
PACK: FUN, BREEZY SHORTS
I packed shorts that I wouldn’t necessarily wear all the time in my day-to-day life. I usually stick to neutrals when dressing on the regular, but I decided to play around with fun prints and styles for this tropical trip. When on vacation, am I right? I went for a pair of whimsical printed pom-pom shorts from Etsy (pictured above, $24; etsy.com) that were perfect for the island life in Thailand, but a printed, lightweight pair from Victoria's secret ($40; victoriassecret.com) would have been my second choice.
LEAVE BEHIND: HEAVY-MATERIAL SHORTS
I’m a big fan of cutoff vintage Levi’s, so naturally a pair came along for my journey. I found out pretty quickly, however, that they’re not breathable and the material is rough, so every time I wore them I was pretty hot and uncomfortable. Trust me, denim rubbing on your bare skin in hot and humid weather is not ideal. And like I said, lighter-weight fabrics are so much easier to pack and give you more room to work with in your bag for other necessities.
PACK: ROMPERS & DRESSES GALORE
When it comes to packing lightly, rompers and dresses are two items that will become your best friend. Not only are they cute, but they’re an entire outfit in one, saving both room and time while packing and getting ready for your day. Not sure which top to wear with your high-waisted shorts or that floral maxi skirt? Opt for a romper instead, which is the perfect combination of both. The RVCA playsuit above ($35; rvca.com) was perfect on the go. Not only was it cute and comfortable, it was easy to roll (another packing must-do) which allowed for so much more room in my backpack.
LEAVE BEHIND: TOO MANY TOP & BOTTOM COMBINATIONS
Pick out two or three of your favorite shorts or skirts, and then pair each with a couple of top options. If you can’t picture which pair of shorts that crop top will go with, leave it at home. Come up with your outfit combinations beforehand, and if you can’t see yourself wearing it, it’s better not to bring.
PACK: MULTIPURPOSE MAKEUP
When packing my makeup bag, I cut down my products to only the essentials. For me, that was bronzer, blush, eyeliner, and mascara. One way I came up with to save space was to bring a cream blush that I could apply with my fingers, meaning I could leave my blush brush behind. This lilah b. lip and cheek duo in shade b. daring ($46; lilahbeauty.com) was perfect because it comes in a tiny, compact case that’s perfect for travel, and it doubled as both blush and lip tint. Two-in-one makeup? Sign me up.
LEAVE BEHIND: LIQUID MAKEUP
Unless you’re super hardcore about your foundation or contouring routines, you’ll probably want to steer clear of liquid makeup. First, it’s so hot that any liquid makeup is most likely going to sweat off anyway. Second, if you’re planning on bringing only a carry-on like I did, you’ll have to limit the amount of liquids you bring, and trust me, you’ll want to reserve that space for bug repellent and sunscreen.
PACK: CHEAP, COMFORTABLE SHOES
This may seem like an obvious one, but pack only shoes that are comfortable and already broken in. I brought a brand new pair of Rainbow flip-flops but only wore them once the entire trip because I hadn’t broken them in, which resulted in blisters. It was a complete waste of space in my bag.
Your shoes are also going to be getting the most wear-and-tear of anything you bring, so I opted to bring a budget pair of sandals from Target ($18; target.com) instead of more expensive ones. I spent 99-percent of my time in these, which included walking around the city, the jungle, and the beach. Having trekked multiple miles each day in them, the wear-and-tear is noticeable. I definitely wouldn’t have wanted to do that damage on a pair of Sam Edelmans.
LEAVE BEHIND: HEELS
I’m just going to say it now: You won’t wear them. Even for a night on the town, you’ll want to be in sandals. For one, the streets are bumpy and uneven—not ideal walking conditions for heels. Not only will they be painful on your feet, but heels are a pain to pack, as well. Flat sandals are much easier to bring along, as they fit perfectly in backpack side pockets. So do yourself and your feet a favor and leave the heels at home.