8 Packing Essentials When Traveling Across Southeast Asia


Insider’s reporters in Singapore share their travel essentials when traveling around Southeast Asia.
Marielle Descalsota/Kai Xiang Teo/Insider

  • Southeast Asia is a popular tourist destination thanks to the region’s year-round tropical weather. 
  • But traveling the region can be uncomfortable — especially if you don’t pack the right items with you.
  • Insider’s reporters’ packing essentials can make your trip better, whether it rains or shines.

Southeast Asia is one of the most popular regions to travel in the world — in 2019, it drew over 147 million tourists.

The region is famous for its deep culture, flavorful cuisines, tropical weather, and gorgeous natural landscapes.

Many of Insider’s Singapore-based reporters have spent years traveling across Southeast Asia, from the temples of Thailand to the beaches of Indonesia and beyond. Below, eight of us have pooled our top packing tips for tourists exploring Southeast Asia, whether you’re here for a weekend or spending several weeks backpacking around.

1. A DIY sun and heat protection kit

Amanda Goh always travels with sunscreen, an umbrella, and a portable fan.
Amanda Goh/Insider

To protect myself from the blazing sun, I always pack a DIY sun and heat kit that consists of three key things: a retractable sunscreen stick, an electronic handheld fan, and a UV umbrella.

The UV index in many Southeast Asian countries is generally on the higher side than in many places in the US, so I always bring a retractable sunscreen stick to protect myself from UV rays. It’s also small enough to bring as a carry-on.

Since most of these countries are warm and humid, a rechargeable handheld electronic fan — with different wind speed modes — keeps me cool on days when the air is especially still.

Lastly, I also keep a UV umbrella in my bag to shade my face from the afternoon sun and keep me dry during the sudden downpours of tropical rain.

— Amanda Goh, real-estate reporter

2. A pack of cold wipes to keep me cool in the heat

Cheryl Teh’s essentials include some cooling wipes from Gatsby.
Cheryl Teh/Insider

I was born and raised in Singapore, but anything over 90 degrees turns me into a sweaty mess.

I recommend Gatsby’s “Ice-Type” cold wipes for my fellow heat-averse travelers. They come in various versions, including some for the face, and deodorizing, scented wipes for the body to keep you cool as a cat.

When traveling in other countries, I also make sure to wear dry-fit clothing, which wicks sweat.

— Cheryl Teh, news editor

3. A three-in-one foldable charging station

Alexandra Karplus, working at a cafe in Bali, always makes sure to pack a universal converter and charging station
Alexandra Karplus/Insider

When I’m on the go, I always make sure I’m powered up by packing a universal converter, a charging station, and a portable battery.

Sockets vary across Asia and, after working as a travel reporter in the region for over 15 years, and more recently traveling as a mother, I vowed never to find myself stuck without the correct plug again. My go-to adapter features four plugs that are compatible with most countries, in addition to boasting five USB ports, and it isn’t overly bulky.

When traveling across Southeast Asia, I use contactless payment at most restaurants and hotels, ride-hailing apps to get around, and Google Maps to avoid getting lost, so being charged up is key. The portable battery makes sure there’s always a backup.

And, as these days it’s not just about a phone — earphones and watches need juice too — I always bring my three-in-one foldable charging station. In the new work-from-anywhere world, this helped me set up a makeshift office at a café in Ubud when needed — as featured in the photo above.

— Alexandra Karplus, life and culture editor

4. A tourist eSIM card

Harris Jamaluddin always uses a tourist SIM card when traveling out of Singapore.
Harris Jamaluddin/Insider

I recommend travelers pick up a tourist eSIM card to dodge expensive roaming fees.

I often travel to Malaysia on the weekends, which is just a bridge away from Singapore. I used to spend way too much time fiddling around with the tiny iPhone ejector pins and physical SIM cards.

These days, I buy eSIM cards — an electronic SIM card that doesn’t require any switching — before traveling. This way, I no longer have to commit to an overpriced tourist SIM card deal from the airport.

— Harris Jamaluddin, social media producer

6. A full suite of ride-hailing apps

Huileng Tan uses ride-hailing apps whenever she travels.
Huileng Tan/Insider

I make sure to install and update ride-hailing apps on my phone before every trip.

Hailing non-metered taxis off the streets of some Southeast Asia cities can be stressful, as it often involves haggling. But ride-hailing apps have made hailing a taxi, scooter, or tuk-tuk — an open-air vehicle popular in places like Thailand — super simple.

I always make sure I have Grab and Gojek — the Southeast Asian equivalents of Uber — ride-hailing apps on my phone before traveling. Grab is available in eight countries in the region while Gojek is available in Indonesia, Singapore, and Vietnam.

In some parts of Laos, where Grab and Gojek aren’t available, I’ve used Loca, a local ride-hailing app. South Korean ride-hailing platform Tada is also expanding in Southeast Asia. As prices go up and down depending on demand, checking different platforms is a great way to get the best price.

— Huileng Tan, senior business news reporter

6. A set of travel cutlery

Kai Xiang Teo has backpacked across Southeast Asia and recommends bringing your own cutlery.
Kai Xiang Teo/Insider

I have quite a bit of experience backpacking around Southeast Asia, and one thing that’s come in handy time and time again is a set of travel cutlery.

It’s made dining on the go more comfortable in situations where I’ve been dealing with poorly equipped hostel kitchens, visiting the convenience store late at night, or traveling on a bus or train between destinations. I’ve also happened to stay in Airbnbs that didn’t provide cutlery

On top of that, it’s also a great way to reduce your carbon footprint when traveling — there’s no need to dispose of single-use plastics. The IKEA travel cutlery set has served me well and includes a stainless steel knife, fork, and spoon wrapped in a black linen cloth.   

— Kai Teo, jr. business news reporter

7. High-quality flip-flops

Marielle Descalsota recommends bringing along a high-quality pair of sandals or flip flops.
Marielle Descalsota/Insider

I’ve swum everywhere from the coasts of Krabi, Thailand, to the Bali waves — and along the way, I’ve broken my fair share of flip-flops. Now, high-quality flip-flops are always on my packing list, even if they cost a bit more.

I recommend wearing high-quality footwear like waterproof sandals that stay wrapped around your feet, or flip-flops that are non-slip and made of a thick material that makes it difficult for rocks and sea creatures to pierce through.

Travelers with bigger feet might find it difficult to find a pair of shoes that fit them in Asia, where sizes tend to be smaller, so it’s probably best to buy these at home before you start your trip.

— Marielle Descalsota, jr. travel reporter

Editor’s note: Some might think that Crocs are only for moms and kids, but Crocs flip flops are slip-resistant, durable, and can even be worn in the water. 

8. Insect repellent and wet wipes

Nidhi Pandurangi brings along a bottle of mosquito repellent in her travel bag.
Nidhi Pandurangi/Insider

Dengue is a major health risk in Southeast Asia, so I always carry a bottle of mosquito repellent on my travels. It’s a must if you plan to spend the day exploring Vietnam’s roadside food eateries or sitting on a beach in Indonesia.

You can also get them as patches, which you can stick to your clothes or luggage to keep the bugs at bay.

— Nidhi Pandurangi, business editor

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