We made packing light a big priority on this trip, knowing that we would be moving around a lot. Asia’s budget airlines are fantastic, but any baggage fees add up quickly when you’re flying as often as we did. For our previous trips to Central America and Asia, we used traditional front-loading 55L bags from Osprey. They served us well, but we realized that buying new, smaller bags would pay for themselves after just a few flight legs. So we headed down to REI and fell in love with the Osprey Porter, which is more of a travel bag (fewer small compartments for gear like sleeping bags, etc). Travis bought a 40L and I bought at 38L. We also purchased packing cubes from Eagle Creek (the 2-sided Pack-It cubes and the Specter multi-sized set), which fit the bags perfectly and made packing up a 5 minute process (important when you do it every 3 days or so).

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The packing cube components of my backpack (this is after souvenir shopping, i.e. max capacity).

All packed up!

All packed up!

I can’t recommend these bags highly enough. The backpack straps zipped into the bag for the few occasions that we checked the bags, which really impressed the baggage ladies and helped prevent any weird snagging. Ours never weighed more than 10kg fully loaded, and you can carry them on for most airlines (AirAsia caps carry on weight at 7kg).

Some of my other travel favorites include:

1. iPhone

If/when The Amazing Race calls, my iPhone is the first thing I’ll try to bring (we’re looking past the reality TV rules against cell phones). Fast, cheap/free Wi-Fi is everywhere in SEA and the iPhone is an invaluable tool for staying in touch, getting directions, calculating currency conversions, and taking pictures. Turn the phone to Airplane mode to avoid any roaming charges and you are good to go (and as a bonus, the phone charges 2x faster on Airplane mode). My favorite apps:

You need all of these apps! Pocket, Skype, XE Currency and What'sApp

You need all of these apps! Pocket, Skype, XE Currency and What’sApp

  • Pocket: Capture articles to read offline. Perfect for flights, and for saving blogs or travel guides to reference on the go.
  • Skype: We didn’t mess around with SIM cards and used Skype’s cheap calling to stay in touch with our parents.
  • XE Currency: Automatically pulls the most current currency rates and stores them for offline calculations.  Especially helpful if you’re covering a lot of countries and can’t/won’t do the mental math for the AUS vs. New Zealand dollar.
  • What’sApp: The Ultimate chat app. Share pictures, texts, videos, etc. Already popular so you likely have a bunch of friends already using it, and it’s intuitive enough for parents as well.

Other useful apps that Travis liked: Google Maps (thank you, offline maps!), SkyScanner, HostelWorld (although get ready to be annoyed if you’re trying to find private rooms) and iBooks (for the Lonely Planet!).

2. Stretchy Bra

Underwire has no place in SEA. It’s too hot and you’ll resent the extra bulk. And because you sweat so much, you’ll favor clothes that are easy to wash–like a wicking, stretchy bra. I loved a racerback model from Gap Body (I considered buying another on the road but strangely, Baby Gap is far more prevalent than adult Gap in Asia so I was SOL).

3. Sunscreen from Home

Maybe I am a princess about this, but I cannot stand Nivea sunscreen. It never rubs in, smells funny and rolls up into awkward sunscreen balls. Unfortunately, if you’re buying in 7Eleven in Asia, this will be your only option for a sub-100+ SPF. Asians don’t like to tan, so your choices will be quite limited. If you have the time and $ to cruise the malls in BKK, you can chose from a variety of fancy Korean products which work quite well. However, your brands (La Roche-Posay!) will be twice as expensive as at home. If you’re on a short enough trip or plan to check bags, I’d bring my own from home if at all possible.

4. Lightweight shorts (non-denim)

Denim is versatile but uncomfortable in Asia. It dries slowly and sticks to your legs. On my next trip, I’ll bring more Lululemon-type shorts for everyday use.

5. Neosporin

Things tend to get infected in the tropics, and you have to pay careful attention to any minor cuts/blisters/over-scratched mosquito bites. I was surprised to learn that you can’t buy Neosporin in most countries. It works fast and helped heal all our cuts, blisters and coral scrapes. This, like our Antibiotics, was also a good insurance policy in case anything really bad happened. If things go awry, I strongly prefer to have the products I know with me in my medicine kit.

Next trip, I’ll probably skip:

Makeup: At most, I’d bring mascara, brow gel and a lip gloss, but it was simply too hot to wear much of anything, and with a tan, most of my colors didn’t match my skin.

Nail Polish: Get it done for $4 and save your polishes from drying out in the heat.

Jeans: Useless. I sent mine home in Singapore after wearing them only a few times in NZ/Oz.

Sneakers: Even my ultralight Nike Frees were too bulky and I simply didn’t need them. You can do any light hiking in your Flip Flops and it’s too much of a hassle untying shoes every time you want to enter a store or house. Tom’s end up stinking and absorb all the weird road grime but work fine if you bring and older pair and just leave them at the end of your trip.

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