The Passport Memorandum's Southeast Asia Backpacking List

What to bring on a long-term trip is one of the main questions that every traveler has before starting their journey. When every item you own for an extended period of time is hanging off of your back, you want to make sure that you're bringing the right things.

After months of exhaustive research, we've found the gear that works for us.

First, keeping our luggage light was one of our main goals. We would each have one main backpack, with an extra for electronics, and a messenger bag for camera gear.

Second, we'll be traveling around Southeast Asia for a year and we’re expecting the weather to be hot and humid with frequent downpours. Hence, we've packed our clothes accordingly. We’re also expecting some slightly colder temperatures up north, and occasionally when we trek to higher elevations – but not as often. 

Once we start traveling to other parts of the world more often (where the climate is colder), we’ll update our travel gear accordingly. In any case, always make sure to plan your backpack-closet around the climate(s) you’re going to visit, as well as the local cultures and customs.

Although this list in its entirety may not work for everyone, many of items we're mentioning here would be useful no matter what far-off destination you've got planned.


Things We Both Have

Osprey Farpoint 55L: These 2-in-1 backpacks are awesome. They’re also one of the few items we had to go check out in person; we went to a REI retail store to try on all of the backpacks we thought were suited to our trip. Through prior research as well as help at the store, we chose the Osprey Farpoint 55L backpacks.

The backpack is made by a reputable, well-known brand with a solid warranty, is the perfect size (they loaded it with weight at the store for us), and has one of the coolest features: a detachable "daypack." This secondary backpack allows us take essential items with us on our day-excursions and integrates really well with the rest of the bag. 

Grayl Ultralight Purifier Bottle: Keeping hydrated is always important, and Southeast Asia has limited access to drinkable water, other than single-use plastic bottles of water (which is almost impossible to recycle in Thailand).

Whether we’re in a low-cost hostel getting work done, or trekking through a jungle to catch beautiful views of a sunset, we need clean water. So how do we keep from having to buy several bottles of water everyday?

We’ve brought along Grayl Ultralight Purifier bottles, each giving us 16 oz. of clean, purified water in 15 seconds. Using GRAYL is drop-dead simple, too. We just fill the Outer ReFill compartment with water from our hotel sink or the nearest stream or waterfall, press the Purifier Press, and drink safe, clean water. If you think you might need clean drinking water on your next adventure, make sure to check this bottle out! 

Microfiber Towels: Even though most of the places we’re staying at have towels, there are times where they may not. Most importantly, these quick-dry towels come in handy for other situations (the beach, for example) and fold down to a compact size. 

 

Cube Organizers: How did we pack things before using these? I’m not really sure, but take a look at these if you like keeping any kind of organization while traveling. Plus, win back some luggage space at the same time. Pro-tip: If you want to try to avoid walking around with crinkled and creased clothing when traveling, roll each article of clothing before putting them into your bag rather than folding them into squares/rectangles. 


General Travel Gear — Southeast Asia Backpacking List

Keeping your belongings safe: We brought three luggage locks with us, which proved to be immediately necessary when we got to our first hostel. In general, bring at least one for each of the major backpacks or suitcases you're bringing.

 

 

Getting a good night's rest: Earplugs and Eye Masks. Good sleep is imperative for a productive day, and since we won't always be able to control the environments that we sleep in, we've got these to deal with troublesome sleeping quarters. Control what you can, and accept what you can't.

 

Sleep anywhere: We also brought along this bed sheet/sleeping sack, in case we make it to sleeping quarters that aren't as clean as we'd like. 

 

Protecting your skin: Again, we've brought along just the necessities – mosquito repellant and sunscreen. And double up on the mosquito repellant, because it's essentially required whenever going out in certain countries (like some of those in Southeast Asia). Plus, in the many countries where mosquitos carry and transmit diseases, the repellant acts as a frontline defense. 

Laundry on-the-go: Clothesline + Clothes Detergent (dry sheets). These can come in handy for whenever we need to get laundry done in our room. This is especially important considering the small quantity of clothes you typically bring along when backpacking. 

 

 

Toiletries: Tweezers, a compact LED-lit mirror, nail clippers, shaving razors, portable toothbrushes and toothpaste, a hairbrush, travel-friendly bottles filled with shampoo, body wash, and conditioner, deodorant, and hand sanitizer.

 

Medical kit: Ibuprofen, general antibiotics and antacids, Imodium, Lactaid pills, rubbing alcohol, and bandages of various sizes. [We've asked officials at a couple of airport security checkpoints about the medicine we've brought along and have been told that there is absolutely no problem as long we're bringing for personal use and not for selling. We'll update this if we're told otherwise!] 


Electronics — We’ve Gotta Blog!

Macbook Pro, 15" (2014) and 13" (2015): Our computers are the cornerstone of our blog. While we didn't need the latest and greatest, we did have a few requirements when purchasing our computers to ensure that our daily work isn't any more difficult or time-consuming than it needs to be.

  1. Apple. In our experience, Mac-OS-based computers are more reliable, both in software and hardware, as Apple's worldwide retail presence and second-to-none customer service make any future warranty repairs much less worrisome. We also constantly use Apple features that require Mac devices and iPhones. 
  2. Pay as little as possible. This seems like an oxymoron after our first requirement, we know. However, what we did to save over $1000 on each computer was simple. With a little patience, you can buy the best model from a year or two ago and save a ton of money. Just wait for the particular model to be on its way out of stock (at B&H or Best Buy, for example). In most cases, the difference in performance between computers from one year to the next is negligible.
  3. One computer with a graphics card and a larger screen. Although carrying around the larger, 15" Macbook Pro adds to our overall weight, the fact that it has a larger screen for photo editing and a graphics card for video editing/speedier overall operation more than makes up for it.

 

Unlocked iPhone 7s: Our phones are constant portals to the rest of the world, and thus an extension of our blog at all times. We'll be using them to quickly share photos and videos, answer messages, comments, and emails, and make business phone calls on a daily basis. 

 

External battery banks: We've brought along two relatively large battery bank (20100mAh) instead of smaller ones for two reasons. First, both were extremely inexpensive through Amazon (on sale). You can check what they're priced at now by clicking on the photo. Second, the larger the battery bank, the less you have to charge it on a constant basis. These have saved us on several occasions, including when we're out and about, and when we're stuck in a location where the one outlet is already being used and both of our phones are dying. You need at least one of these if you're traveling. 

Chargers: Everything runs on batteries now, so as long as you have a charger or two for each one of your devices, you'll be fine. We'd like to mention two separate things that have come in handy:

First, the case carrying all of our cables and chargers (excluding our Macbook chargers). This is similar to the packing cubes mentioned earlier; once you've organized everything with it, you don't know how you ever traveled without it. Second, multi-USB port chargers that are able to charge at 2.4 amps (aka 2.4A), ensuring that you can plug several devices at the same time have them all charge rapidly and efficiently. The extra USB ports help maximize whatever electricity outlets you might have around you. 

Kindle Paperwhite: We chose to bring the Paperwhite with us to keep any of the reading we do on the road as lightweight as possible. 

 

 

Headphones: Having a decent pair of headphones that block out noise is essential, as we never know how noisy of an environment we might be in. We've these headphones with us, which I consider the best bang-for-your-buck headphones (i.e. great for replacing the headphones that came with your phone).

They're the Sony MDRXB50AP, and they were nearly half-off retail price when we purchased them ($25-$30). They're bassy headphones that I'd recommend to anyone in a heartbeat. 

 

Travel-friendly Multiplug/Extension cord/Powerstrip: Maximizing your outlets is necessary, especially when traveling through Southeast Asia, where in some cases you might only have one outlet for all of your devices (i.e. our first week here). 

 

 

 

Electronics Backpack: The Thule Strävan Backpack, a water-resistant and sturdy laptop backpack that holds both of our laptops, along all of our chargers, hard drives (more on this down below) and other equipment. It's kept our computers dry through rain and long-tail boat rides across islands in Thailand – so it gets our approval. 


Photography gear

A6500: We think pretty highly of this camera. While there are certainly other cameras that are more budget-friendly (like the a6000, costing nearly a third, or the RX100), we love the a6500 for it's sturdy build, speedy operation, stabilized sensor, and touch screen. As with most of our electronics, we didn't buy this full price. Always buy used if possible! Used prices are always changing, so if you want to check those out, click here to see what they're going for used on Amazon, or here to check on B&H Photo Video.

 

A6300: This is our backup camera; if anything were to happen to our primary camera during or before a photoshoot, we know we have the resources to continue onward as normal. This camera was released months before the A6500 mentioned above, so it doesn't have some of the same niceties. But – it is just as dependable, and provides essentially the same photo quality. If you want 4K video recording and professional photo quality – check this one out. 

 

Lenses: 

  1. Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8 - This ultra-wide angle lens covers our architectural photography very well (for our work with hotels) as well as expansive landscape photos and the occasional exaggerated photo. This lens in particular is very sharp throughout the frame for an ultra-wide angle and is very fun to use once you know its characteristics and limitations.
  2. Zeiss Touit 32mm f/1.8 - This "normal" lens takes care of the majority of our story telling, including landscapes, environmental portraits, food, and street photography.
  3. Zeiss Touit 50mm f/2.8 - This short telephoto lens actually doubles as a macro lens, which allows us the freedom to get as close as we'd like when photographing a subject. This lens is ideal for isolating subjects, whether that be a person or a landscape, and resolves an incredible amount of detail even before any editing. 

Batteries and chargers: We're the opposite of minimalists when it comes to these tiny camera batteries. In total, we have 6 batteries and 3 chargers. These are the ones we've found to be most dependable and inexpensive, even if they're not quite as good as the originals (you can buy two and a dual-charger for the price of one!). Whatever the case, we recommend getting 2-3 of these batteries if you own Sony cameras – in our case, having a few additional ones doesn't weigh us down and provides us with the flexibility and security of always having a functioning/charged camera.

Filters: The only filters we're currently using on a daily basis are protective UV filters we've purchased for each of the aforementioned lenses. Shooting on windy beaches and waterfalls can wreak havoc on the front element of the lenses; these allow us to use our lenses without having to be too careful. [Filters can also be a tricky subject, especially for landscape photographers. We've had tremendous success with the "Digital Filter" app on our Sony cameras, which digitally recreates what ND filters do inside the camera and returns a clean RAW file for us to edit to our liking.]

Tripod: The Manfrotto PIXI is our only tripod at the moment. With some creativity and ingenuity, this tiny tripod has been able to handle most of our long-exposure photography.

 

 

 

SD Cards: Memory! Another component of photography that's inexpensive and worth having several of. We've purchased three of these and they've been rock solid. On many occasions during a day of shooting, we've filled an SD card and needed another one on the fly. Video work would only exacerbate the issue. Buy one or two more than you think you might need in case you lose one or one fails (which can happen!). 

 

Hard drives (x3): We have three in total: this one for general backups, and two of these for our photos and videos. As a blog, our main product consists of two things: words and photography/video. Our blog posts and writing in general is contained very easily online through Google Drive and on Squarespace; our photos, however, are another matter entirely. Again, without entering too much into minor details, we use one hard drive to backup our computers (through Apple's Time Machine), while the other two hard drives are mirror copies of each other and house all of the photos and videos we've taken. 

Please note: If you're not planning on starting a business based around photography while traveling, you don't need an enormous Macbook Pro and an abundance of camera batteries, hard drives, and cameras! Traveling long-term can be inexpensive and simple from a technology standpoint. Comment down below if you've got any questions regarding what gear you might need and we'll do our best to help!


Clothing

As mentioned earlier, we chose clothes appropriate to the climates we are planning to be in: hot and humid. We've compiled this general list of clothes with distinctions for any differences. 

  • 8 underwear (for him)
  • 3 bras (for her)
  • 6 T-shirts (mostly quick-dry)
  • 1 long sleeve T-shirt  
  • 3 pairs of shorts
  • 2 dresses (for her)
  • 1 pair of leggings (for her)
  • 1-2 bathing suits
  • 1 sarong (for her)
  • 1 light rain jacket
  • 1 fleece sweater
  • 1 pair of hiking shoes (Merrell hiking shoes, for him; Columbia trail shoes, for her)
  • 1 pair of sneakers (Sperry Top-Sider, for him)
  • 1 pair of sandals (Teva; for him, for her)
  • 1 pair of flip flops

Well – that does it! Hope this list helps you decide what to bring on your next trip!


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