Travel ‘essentials’ I actually used and the one’s you don’t need — Honest Packing List for Backpacking Asia

Below is my honest Asia packing list, based on what I learned after 6 months backpacking Asia.

Before I began my solo adventure, I read a lot of packing lists to ensure I didn’t forget anything. Before travelling, you want to make sure you have the essentials… but what’s actually necessary? And what are you never going to use?

As so many packing lists contained affiliate links, I found it hard to differentiate between the many awesome honest packing lists and the ones which wanted a percentage of expensive gadgets. As such, there are no affiliate links on this list. (Although I’m not against them.)

First up, if you’re interested, my backpack of choice was the Osprey Fairview 40 litre. It counts as carry-on on many airlines but it’s not too small either. It’s the ‘female’ version of the Osprey Fairpoint 40, which is another great pack.


Multi-country Plug adaptor

Yeah, you need this in your Asia packing list for sure! I would advise investing one with a plug socket AND USB ports. Many packing lists advised taking an extension cable for when there’s only one plug, but for me this would have taken up too much space.

With a plug that includes USB ports, you can charge your phone and other devices via the USB port whilst also plugging your laptop in. Make sure you have a multi-country plug adaptor if you’re going to multiple places.

Eye mask

Maybe you don’t need this if you’re not staying in private rooms, but otherwise highly recommended for dorm rooms. I didn’t actually use earbuds because I find them uncomfortable, but instead used my headphones with relaxing music when hostels were noisy.

I got a silk eye mask and made sure it was large enough to cover out light and the elastic was adjustable so it would be comfortable.

Packing cubes

Go for a fairly good quality ones with flexible material. The ones with square edges won’t squeeze up as easily in your backpack. I liked them as things would have just been a huge mess in my backpack otherwise, some people say they can squeeze more into their backpack without one. It’s up to you!

SD card reader that plugs into my phone

A card reader that plugs into your phone – perfect for anyone with a camera who wants to load photos straight to their phone. Absolute godsend. So glad I added this to my Asia packing list!

Toothbrush protector

Considering it takes up no extra space anyways it’s really worth taking one. Plus it’s an easy way to keep your toothbrush clean while travelling.

Collapsible smaller backpack

Yes! I had this and a collapsible tote bag and both were sooo useful while backpacking Asia. I used at least one every single day. The collapsible daypack is now what I take to work everyday (now I’m on a Working Holiday Visa in Australia).

Small secure bag

I actually bought this JUST before I went backpacking. I went to Transylvania for a few days and realised it was a huge inconvenience having to search for my passport in my backpack before boarding a flight. I kept my cash, passport, bank cards and phone in this bag wherever I went. (And the one time I didn’t, my phone got stolen.) Highly recommended!

A good pair of shoes

DEFINITELY take comfort over style with footwear. These walking sandals were ideal, but depending on wear you’re going you might prefer hiking shoes/boots or flipflops.
packing essentials backpacking packing list asia vietnam
This travel bag went with me everywhere I went in 6 months backpacking Asia! As did those sandals, which were my only pair of shoes for months.


Squeezy refillable bottles.

Pointless for a long backpacking trip, as they’ll just run out of liquid anyway… better for frequent travellers with a home base.

Instead? I just used the hostel shampoo everywhere I went… a good way to save money. If they had no shampoo? I used their soap. Yep, shockingly it works. Another great option that also reduces plastic waste is the lush shampoo bars.

Hangable toiletry bag

I didn’t end up packing this as it didn’t fit in my bag! I just using a normal thin cotton bag for toiletries.


I went somewhere just once where you needed a headlamp in 6 months of travel. And my hostel provided a waterproof headlamp anyways.

Waterproof bag for phone

Never needed photos in water badly enough to take my phone into any lakes, rivers or ocean. If that’s something that’s important to you, consider buying a cheap underwater camera or make sure you get a good quality one.

Special travel clothing? Nah – pack whatever the hell you want… Sort of

I bought some basic gym wear (leggings and two vest tops) but otherwise any weather appropriate clothing will do! I saw everything from very expensive travel underwear to multi-use reversible dresses. I’m not knocking it if that’s what you want to wear, but don’t feel like you have to spend extra money before you’ve even left the countries if you already have clothing that might be suitable. I still could fit a couple of nice dresses in my carryon and was glad I did.

THAT SAID… lightweight clothing is an awesome addition for any Asia packing list, especially when it comes to layers. As are good quality hiking socks and clothes that you don’t mind barely surviving the wear and tear that comes with long-term travel. If you’re on a real adventure trip, you will want lightweight clothing appropriate for the terrain and climate.


I also saw sewing kits, swiss army knives, and an assortment of adventure gear in normal backpacker’s bags because they’d been talked into it on packing lists… think carefully about what kind of trip you’re having before loading your pack with extra things.

2 other popular items were: mosquito nets, sleeping bag liners. I stayed in manky hostels everywhere and didn’t ever require these, but I see why this would be personal preference.
backpacking asia packing list japan
I can’t wait for the my next backpacking trip! Here I am after a 4 day solo hike in Japan.

2 things I didn’t use, but you should take anyway

Microfibre travel towel

I lost it in my second month backpacking Asia and after that just used a t-shirt instead for months on end.


It didn’t work. I carried it around Asia for 6 months anyways before throwing it away. Who knows why. Some hostels provided secure lockers and otherwise I had valuables on me at all times anyway.

But take one… just check it works before you go!

Mini torch

I just used the light on my phone if I had to get something in the hostel dorm at night for example… as a solo traveller, I didn’t wander around in any darkness that warranted using a torch.


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Twenty-something hag, travelling solo and no clue where I’ll end up. My motto? Scared of everything - doing it anyway.

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