I'm nearing the end of my trip (just 26 days to go!), so I thought I'd verbally dump my backpack out for you to see everything I've needed for backpacking for four months in Southeast Asia.
3 pairs of pants (2 "beach pants", 1 pair cotton trousers)
I bought two pairs of linen "beach pants" at Old Navy before I left and they turned out to be horrible. Turns out the linen is blended with some kind of synthetic so they are unbearably hot and heavy. Plus they're baggy and I've found, for whatever reason, that have pants that are tight at the ankle feel way cooler than those that extend down to your shoe; also it makes for a much easier time negotiating a squat toilet.
The cotton trousers, on the other hand, have been perfect. They're also from Old Navy and look quite nice, actually, so I've reserved them mainly for plane travel so I look reasonably civilized member of society and not like a grungy feral animal.
5 tank tops (2 white, 1 grey, 1 purple, 1 black)
This has been a good number to have, although the two white tanks are basically beyond hope at this point (sooooo soiled).
1 short black skirt (which I never wore)
I brought my favorite tight black skirt with me and I've worn it exactly once going out one night in Hoi An. I could have definitely left this at home, or opted for a knee-length loose skirt (knee-length is good because you always have to have your shoulders and knees covered at temples, plus a lot of the royal palaces).
1 ankle-length black skirt
This has come in quite handy, especially in countries where being more covered is important, like Malaysia and Myanmar (I'll be wearing it a lot in Sri Lanka as well).
1 black sundress
Bought a simple, black cotton sundress from H&M before I left and it's been the perfect buy; I've worn it everywhere from the beaches of Cambodia to the bars of Singapore.
1 elbow-length white-and-blue shirtdress
I bought this last year from Old Navy for work, actually, but it's been a great choice for when I've wanted to be a little more dressy, such as going to happy hour at the Hotel Le Royal in Phnom Penh to hanging out in Hanoi. Also, a good option for airplane travel and, since I haven't worn it too much, a good thing to have around for laundry day.
3 long-sleeved lightweight shirts
I bought two tunic-type shirts from Old Navy before leaving (man, Old Navy really made out, didn't they!?). Both have been great, especially the one that's made of cotton (the one made of synthetic fibers gets really wrinkled). I've definitely been grateful to have them since you often have to cover up at temples, plus riding around on a motorbike I want my shoulders covered from the sun. I also brought an old Ralph Lauren long-sleeved tunic shirt but it's black and the cotton is thick and heavy so I haven't worn it much (could have definitely left this one at home).
1 lightweight denim-coloured cotton button-down shirt
Another layer I've been grateful to have, especially trekking in Sapa (more to protect my shoulders and arms from the relentless heat) and the Cameron Highlands and Myanmar where it was actually cold.
1 rain jacket
I've lugged this expensive North Face jacket around all trip only to learn in Myanmar it doesn't actually do much against the rain.
1 pair olive-coloured shorts
A pair I bought at H&M years ago; a great colour to have as they don't look dirty too quickly, yet are still a neutral (they look OK with all my tank tops).
1 pair bright blue running shorts
A cheap pair from Old Navy (gee, they are really getting the plug in this article, aren't they?). Love them because they dry super quickly
Alas, this bright aqua Victoria's Secret bikini will probably not be making the trip home as after caving through mud in Phong Nha, Vietnam and kayaking in Krabi and lots of beach and pool activity, it's look pretty grimy. Just a few weeks to go ...
1 pair flip flops
Invested in a $40 pair of Reef flip flops from REI before leaving and they've been a godsend since I wear them literally every day. Flip flops are essential for SE Asia travel as you have to take your shoes off pretty much everywhere you go, from temples to some museums, shops, hotels, etc. Despite the run-in with a dumpster in Malaysia while learning to drive a motorbike, I think they will make the trip home (although the left one is barely hanging in there). You can do it, flip flop!
1 pair sandals
Bought a pair of silver-gold-and-black sandals (some brand called Crown Vintage) before my family's trip to Puerto Rico over Christmas and brought them along just in case I needed to be sans flip flops somewhere. Glad I've had them, as they helped the black sundress not look totally backpacker in Singapore, get me in to the happy hour at the Hotel Le Royal in Phnom Penh (flip flops not allowed), and feel a bit civilized when going out on the town. Plus when my feet got covered in blisters after my Myanmar trek they were the only shoes I could wear for a few days.
1 pair sneakers
My New Balance 501s are the champions of this trip, although, like the bikini, they won't be making the trip back home. I bought these for walking to and from work in the Presidio back in San Francisco and not only did they make that journey every day for two years, they've also walked with me in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, on the trails of Marin, and now all over Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos and Myanmar (OK, they only made a few hours of the trek in Myanmar, but still). Thanks for the love, New Balance Sneakers, I will always love you. Cut to me and my sneakers in a black-and-white slo-mo montage with a voiceover of me singing and Iiiiiiiii e iiiii will always love youuuuuuu ... I will always love you, New Balance Sneakers, RIP.
1 white scarf
I wore this on the flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong and I haven't worn it since. I will probably wear it again on the flight from Hong Kong to SF so I can be bundled to properly upon exiting the airport to face the blustery cold, foggy winds of San Francisco summer.
1 black lightweight cardigan
Haven't worn this much since my flights to SE Asia, but it's been a good layer to have for occasional bus rides and flights where the a/c is super intense.
I got a great little straw hat at World Market a couple years ago. The best thing about this hat is that it wasn't very expensive (I think I paid around $13) so I have no qualms about crushing it in my backpack every day.
1 small brown purse
Bought this brown shoulder bag for my trip to Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan last fall and it's the perfect little bag for toting around my phone and wallet so I'm not lugging an entire day bag around when heading out for dinner.
Probably the best thing I have with me. My sister lent me hers, which she bought for living in Ghana for a few months. Not only is it super lightweight material, which is necessary when sleeping in a bungalow cooled only by fan, it's also bug-repellant. Even if there's a mosquito net, it just feels nice to know there's another layer of protection. In addition to sleeping in bungalows, I've used this in a lot of places where I just felt icky about the sheets or bedding -- a total lifesaver.
Mosquito hair net
My sister lent me this as well, but I've never used it.
Replete with bandaids, itch lotion, Pepto-Bismal, aspirin, ibuprofen, Tylenol PM, nail clippers, tweezers, extra earplugs, hairties, moleskin, samples of lotions.
This goes in my carry-on and has an eyemask, earplugs, hand lotion, face mist, extra lipbalm, face wipes, mini toothpaste, toothbrush, hair comb.
Toothpaste, Face lotion, Night cream, Deodorant, Shampoo, Face wash & Conditioner, Hairbrush, Headlamp
Bug spray, Bug repellant cream & Bug liquid
I actually tossed the cream at a certain point because it was grossing me out every time I used it, plus I've found the spray & liquid to be way more effective.
Lonely Planet's Southeast Asia on a Shoestring
This is not an item you want to find yourself buying in Southeast Asia as it's actually quite expensive here. I brought a big bottle of La Roche-Posay sunscreen I'd bought in Lisbon a few years ago, which is luxurious and French and also cost me 20€ at the time. Since I've been slathering it on every day, it has been wise to have a large supply.
Sadly I lost my amazing little, lightweight umbrella in Penang. Will have to buy another when I get home. In the meantime, I bought a UV-protected umbrella designed for both rain and sun and it is another godsend. It makes a huge difference walking down an unshady street when the sun is strong.
Another indispensable item. While I always use real towels, they haven't been available at a few hostels (or were available for rent), and it has come in super handy for day trips where water is involved.
Just a good, old-fashioned pair of Raybans with UV protection, totally necessary for the bright hot sun here in the tropics.
In my day-bag (a Patagonia messenger bag)
Ipad + Logitech keyboard
Looooove my little Logitech keyboard, which cost about $100 and turns my iPad into almost-a-laptop.
Iphone + iphone headphones
I use my iPhone for basically everything, including in lieu of a camera. The headphones have been super essential for all the bus travel.
Notebook & pens
Still reading "A Farewell to Arms" ... probably will still be reading it when I get home ...
What I should have packed:
I'm not a fan of hand sanitizer in normal circumstances, but here in SE Asia where there's often not soap around when you're washing your hands post-disgusting toilet situations, it's essential. Luckily I found some left behind in a hostel bathroom and have been using it ever since (it's Christmas Tree scent, btw, which I think is super funny and strange ... who wants their hands to smell like a Christmas Tree!?)
A soap box
With a bar of good, old-fashioned soap inside, naturally. Which you will want to scrub yourself with after sweating all day in the grimy, dusty air. I bought a nice bar of strawberry-infused soap in the Cameron Highlands and found a plastic soap box at the supermarket in Yangon.
An extra sundress
I could have left a pair of those insufferable pants behind and brought an extra sundress along.
For keeping shoulders covered, essential for protecting your skin and also necessary at many sites you want to visit that require being pretty covered-up.
A small pair of scissors
I invested in a pair I found at a stationary shop in Singapore; they've come in handy for cutting threads off things, opening weird packaging, etc.
For pinning back my now grown-out bangs, which I had cut just before leaving on this trip. Why my hairdresser -- who had JUST been in Thailand weeks before my appointment -- allowed me to cut myself bangs is beyond me, but after suffering through weeks of them plastered to my forehead, they are now pinned back away from my face with bobby pins I found at one of Thailand's million 7-11s.
Bought a little daypack that folds up into a bag at a knock-off shop in Vietnam; what kills me is I have almost the exact same North Face daypack back in SF (the only difference is that the one in SF is real!). Has been essential for the two treks, plus day hikes, day trips, etc.
So there you have it. Everything I have toted around with me for four months, all 12.5 kilos of it. I promise this post was in no way paid for by Old Navy. (Although ... Old Navy, if you're reading this, call meeeeeeee.)