There is no such thing as a perfect packing list. Every traveller’s must-have list will depend on their personal style of travelling.
Some will only pack the essentials and travel as lightly as possible, while others may prefer to bring plenty of clothes, hiking gear, camera equipment, or even bring their favourite sports equipment.
However, there are some essentials that every traveller needs on their trip, whether they are a first-time traveller or a seasoned backpacker. This packing list will serve as your ultimate guide to make sure you include everything you need when travelling to Southeast Asia and Latin America.
How to choose your luggage and how to pack in an efficient way
Let’s start with the age-old question: suitcase or backpack?
You’ll find die-hard fans in both camps. We think the answer largely depends on your travel style.
Are you basing yourself in one hotel and doing day trips from there? Then a suitcase will be a perfectly fine option.
Are you planning on moving around a lot, changing accommodations and using public transport? Then a backpack is a clear winner in our books. It’s easier to move around with and it’s handy for dirt roads, stairs, hills and cobblestones.
If you haven’t bought your backpack or suitcase yet, you might be overwhelmed with the countless different options out there. Which one to choose?
Our review of the best backpacks for Southeast Asia is a good place to start.
Don’t leave home without these must-haves!
When preparing your packing list, you may feel a little overwhelmed. How are you ever going to fit everything you use daily into one backpack? You may not be able to take everything, but we hope the info below will assist you with packing what you will need. Below are the documents you must never leave your home or hotel without:
Passport – You won’t get too far without this document, so be sure to have it with you!
PRO TIP: Some motorbike and car rental places will request that you leave your original passport with them, but we strongly recommend not agreeing to this! If they refuse to rent to you because of this, simply move along and find another rental company. This can save you from scams, as some companies will claim that you have done damage to the vehicle and refuse to return your passport until you pay for damages. A photocopy and deposit should be more than enough.
Travel + health insurance – Do not leave home without it! Carry a photocopy of your insurance with you at all times.
Debit/credit cards – We suggest taking at least two cards with you. Do not keep all your cards in the same place. For example: keep one card in your wallet with you for convenience and keep another in your luggage or in the safe at the hotel for emergencies. You do not want to be in a situation where your wallet is lost or stolen and you lose all your cards. Always have a backup card hidden somewhere in your luggage or in the safe.
Cash – While you can use ATMs to withdraw cash in all countries, the fees can be quite expensive. We suggest taking out the maximum withdrawal amount each time you go to the ATM and keeping it in the safe at your hotel. Each day, you can take enough cash from the safe to get you through the day and not have to pay the high ATM withdrawal fees as often.
We also suggest taking some US dollars or euros. This will come in handy, especially at border crossings, as almost all countries accept USD.
Medicine – Don’t leave home without it. Be sure to stock up so that you have enough to get you throughout the duration of your trip. Yes, you can buy medicine overseas, but it may not be the same brand or quality that your body is accustomed to.
PRO TIP: Be sure to get all your travel shots prior to departure. See your local travel clinic for more information.
The packing list essentials for any trip
The documents listed below are not “must-haves” but they sure will help you along the way! Having these documents on hand will save time and money and make your travels much easier. We suggest including the following documents in your travel packing list for both Southeast Asia and Latin America:
International driving license – You will need your driving license to rent a car or motorbike. It will also suffice as an additional piece of ID so you don’t have to carry your passport with you at all times.
Student card – This is an additional piece of ID so you can leave your passport in the hotel. You may even find some places that will offer student discounts!
Photocopies of passport and documents – Having photocopies of your passport and identification will save you time, money, and hassle throughout your journey. We suggest taking approximately 10-20 copies with you, depending on the duration of your trip.
Clothing to pack for your Southeast Asia trip
Does your backpack appear to be shrinking before your eyes? Is it getting smaller each time you look at it? Don’t worry, this is something that happens to all travellers when preparing a packing list for Southeast Asia. Below is a suggested list of clothing you will want to pack for your travels:
- Underwear – Pack enough to last you 1 week, you may not have access to laundry at all times.
- Socks – 1-2 pairs should be enough.
- Shirts, singlets/tank top
- Shoes, flip-flops – 1 pair of running/hiking/walking shoes and 1 pair of beach sandals.
- A pair of long trousers/leggings – These will come in handy for the cold plane rides and will keep the mosquitoes away!
- Sarong/towel – Perfect for showering, using at the beach, and even keeping you warm in ferry/plane rides.
- Rain poncho
Optional packing items
- Hiking shoes – This one splits the crowd as hiking shoes are a pain to carry around with you. But if you’re planning serious multi-day hikes or volcano trekking, it’s worth considering.
- Thermal top – Perfect for layering under your jumper or jacket for extra warmth if you’re heading to Sa Pa or hiking volcanoes in Indonesia.
- Packable lightweight down jacket – It packs small, can be used as a pillow and will be a lifesaver for hikes in high altitudes.
PRO TIP: Lay your clothes flat on the floor or bed, fold them in half, and then roll them tightly lengthwise. This will give you much more space than folding them.
Additional clothes for your Latin America trip
Latin American landscapes are incredibly diverse. One day you’re at the beach, working on your tan and learning to surf. The next, you’re hiking 3500 m above sea level, where temperatures can drop below zero at night!
On top of that, high-altitude cities like Bogota, San Cristobal and Oaxaca City get pretty chilly in the evenings.
If you’re travelling to Latin America, pack these extra items (in addition to everything we listed for Southeast Asia including the optional items):
- 5-6 pairs of socks – There are some amazing multi-day hikes in Latin America (we recommend El Mirador in Guatemala and the Lost City trek in Colombia), so bring enough socks to last you 5-6 days on the trail.
- Extra warm socks – You’ll need these if you’re spending a night at the top of a volcano.
Packing the essential toiletries for your trip
We suggest purchasing packing a toiletry bag (the ones with a hook are especially handy). This will also make it much easier when going to the shower as you’ll just need to grab one small bag instead of a handful of items. Below are the toiletries we suggest bringing to Southeast Asia and Latin America:
- Toothbrush, toothpaste
- Suncream/aftersun – Especially when travelling to Asia, where suncream is quite expensive, we strongly suggest bringing 1-2 bottles with you from home.
- A bar of soap/shower gel
- Lip balm
- Nail clipper
- Insect repellent
- Hand sanitiser
PRO TIP: All toiletries can be bought in Asia and Latin America at similar prices to home, so bring only what you need.
Miscellaneous, but still important things to pack
My backpack is full!! No, it’s not, we promise there’s more room, there’s always more room! If you’ve taken our suggestion from above and bought packing cubes/bags, then you definitely have room for more. While some of these items below may seem like luxury items to others, they are must-haves. Either way, you will likely want to include a few of these items when putting together your packing list for Southeast Asia and Latin America:
- Eye mask
- Playing cards
- Swiss knife – Remember you can’t bring this in your hand luggage
- Pen and a journal
- Travel wallet/money belt
- Waterproof phone case
- Lock for lockers
- Power converter – We strongly suggest bringing a universal converter with you as most countries throughout Asia and Latin America are different and you don’t want to buy a new one in each country. If you are not sure if you need one, you can check this website to see if the country you are travelling to uses a different plug.
- Headlamp – Perfect for overnight camping adventures and sunrise hikes
- Power bank
Frequently asked questions about packing for Southeast Asia and Latin America
What to wear in temples in Southeast Asia?
If you’re heading to Southeast Asia, you’ll visit your fair share of temples. So much so that backpackers have coined the term ‘templed out’ (that’s someone who’s seen so many temples they can’t bear to look at another one!).
It’s important to know that many temples have a dress code. Usually, it asks that your knees and shoulders are covered (this applies mainly to women). But sometimes it may require you to also cover your ankles and arms. Check the signs before entering to know what’s required of you.
To make sure you’re prepared for all options, pack long trousers or a maxi skirt/dress and a lightweight long-sleeve tunic. If you don’t have appropriate clothing at home, no problem. In some countries, they will be provided for free and if not, you can easily buy or rent temple clothing once in Southeast Asia.
Which fabrics are the best to wear in Southeast Asia?
Most places in Southeast Asia are hot and humid, which means that clothes get wet easily (you’ll sweat A LOT) but take a long time to dry. Lightweight fast-drying clothes made for sports will be the most practical. We also recommend natural fabrics like cotton and linen.
Do I need a warm jacket in Latin America?
This depends on where you’re going. If you’re only travelling to the Caribbean coast and plan on spending the trip at the beach, you’ll be ok without it.
If you’re planning on hikes or visiting high-altitude destinations like Cusco, Machu Picchu, or San Cristobal, you’ll be very grateful that you brought a warm jacket.
But, of course, you can keep it spontaneous and buy one when you get there!
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