With millions of adventurers flocking to the East for months at a time, it seems almost a rite of passage to travel Asia at some point in life. The chances are that you’re interested in backpacking the region – but how exactly do you pack for the unknown? Whether you’re an over-packer or an under packer, being in the capital of China one month and rural Vietnam the next does demand that you think carefully about the things you’re going to need throughout your trip. This means that at the same time as you want to avoid packing too much, you’ll also want to ensure that you’re not missing the essentials. Luckily, it’s entirely possible to find a happy medium – start by considering these handy tips on how to pack light when touring Asia.
Carefully choose your travel bag
Before you start the packing process, think about how many litres your backpack holds, and weigh the empty bag itself to see how many litres you’re starting with – backpacks can often be deceptively heavy even before you’ve filled them with your belongings. And, as a matter of fact, just because you’re going backpacking doesn’t actually mean that you have to use a backpack: often, traditional roller bags are a more appropriate option and make it much easier to compartmentalise clothing. They’re lighter, too, with Antler Luggage’s Oxygen range boasting an 85 litre capacity for its largest case, and weighing in at a mere 2.5 kilograms.
Define the essentials
It’s exponentially helpful to understand first and foremost the prerequisites for a light travel packing list, and fortunately, we’ve brought them together for you. Experienced backpackers commonly recommend the following things for travel in Asia: a good (but light) waterproof jacket (especially for monsoon season); loose linen pants and shirt; sandals and an easy-dry pair of sneakers; a swimwear set; a small toiletry set (including toilet roll, hand sanitizer, sun-cream, and mosquito repellent); sunglasses and hat; a microfiber towel; a fleece jacket; and lastly, all of your travel documents (preferably held in a secure lanyard). This list obviously comprises only the bare essentials, but it’s useful to have a baseline idea of the utility-rich things that you actually require overseas before you contemplate adding anything that’s merely decorative.
Keep clothing as light as possible
The weight of your clothing will largely depend, of course, on where you’re travelling. If you’re planning on jetting to Japan in the midst of winter, for example, your pack will be a touch heavier than a summer traveller’s. What you can do if you’re travelling in a colder climate, however, is to opt for clothing that traps your body warmth without burdening you with the weight of wool. Polyprops and light fleece are obvious options material-wise, but puffer clothing is just as effective – just take care to punch the air out before you fit it into your pack.
If you’re travelling to a country that experiences scorching temperatures year-round – the most likely option if you’re off to Thailand or India, for example, then what you need to consider is how your sweat will react with materials. Cotton gets damp quickly, and stays damp, meaning extra weight for you to carry (as well as an unwelcome smell, if – or more correctly, when – you don’t manage to do laundry for a while). Quick-dry fabrics are the solution here, with sportswear-type pieces sure to keep your bag lighter in hot conditions.
Plan out your timeline as best you can
It helps to know what situations you’ll most likely be dressing for when you’re packing your bag for a trip like this. For males and females alike, the formality of dress is bound to be a consideration for events like cultural dinners or for sacred sites like mosques and temples, and you’ll probably want to pack at least one more “dressy” outfit even if you haven’t intended on anything of the sort. It doesn’t take much to look presentable – a nice scarf might do the trick – and it’ll leave you feeling a lot more human for nights out.
Condense everything that can be condensed
Have six dense books in the bottom of your pack because you want to keep entertained for the entire time you’re away? Ditch that extra couple of kilograms by bringing along a Kindle instead – or better still, download the texts onto your phone and rid yourself of all that extra weight. It’s solutions like these that will keep your pack full of what it needs to be: specifically, clothing and hygiene supplies. Anything else – especially technological items or other “maybe” bits for your leisure – is somewhat immaterial. There’s no danger of being left with nothing to do when you’re in an entirely different region of the world, so keep the entertainment resources at home and immerse yourself in the local culture.
Don’t pack anything unessential
This is an obvious one, but necessary nonetheless: don’t make your life harder by packing things that you think you “might” find useful. Trust us – a backpack can start to feel really heavy after you’ve been travelling with it 24/7, and before you know it you’ll be cursing yourself for packing that extra face cream or pair of flippers. Of course, it’s not a massive issue if you do end up packing what you don’t need, as you can easily rearrange or remove items as you travel.
Don’t skimp on self-care items
As you can probably tell by now, there’s a lot you can leave behind while travelling; what you might justify packing a larger supply of when you’re crossing a more remote area of Asia, however, is medical and hygiene goods. Whether you’re struck down by a dodgy meal, unclean water, or a flurry of unfamiliar bugs, the extra medicines that the doctor recommended to you are sure to come in handy during your travels – they’ll definitely be worth the small amount of extra weight and space that they take up.
Sofia Lockett is a freelance writer from New Zealand with a passion for travel, technology, and fitness. Sofia has experience writing for various fitness companies and travel blogs.