In the past couple of years of Southeast Asia budget traveling, I have packed and unpacked so many times I should be an expert by now. But I’m not. Predicting what I might need falls into the ‘Murphy’s Law’ category, which is if I bring it, I won’t need it and if I don’t bring it I will. But including a few of my tried and true travel hacks for Southeast Asia have always saved me time as well as money.
You may smugly say, “I only stay at the best.” But the truth is, some of the best hotels can have their shortcomings when it comes to interior design planning and layout. Also last minute travels can sometimes put you in the position to be less choosy. There are also, those little emergencies that can happen along the way.
That’s one on the reasons I love reading those how to pack and what to bring blogs, so I can compare notes. Some are more practical than others and location can be a factor for sure. But in my past year or so of accommodation researching in Malaysia and Thailand I have found a few items that I bring along on my back road travels, just in case I need to pull MacGyver-style travel hacks out of my hat.
These travel hacks for Southeast Asia will come in handy.
1). Duct tape
Duct tape is an instant repair miracle. Seriously, if the handle on your suitcase breaks or you get a rip in your backpack, duct tape is the band-aid of choice. And yes it can also be used as a band-aid or heaven forbid you need it, a tourniquet.
2). Sizable coffee cup (and extra packets of coffee and tea mix)
Electric tea kettles are a popular hotel and guesthouse amenity in Southeast Asia and this convenience usually comes with a tiny two-gulp coffee cup and a few packets of coffee. I save myself time by not blowing through my allotted rations in a few sips and then having to track down housekeeping to beg for more. I also don’t want to see the world at the crack of dawn in search of an ample cup of coffee.
3). Small flashlight
Beyond the obvious great outdoor uses, hotel rooms are usually quite dimly lit and, if doing a bit of island hopping, some islands are actually powered up by timed generators or are prone to frequent power surges which can leave you quite literally in the dark. No one wants to feel around an unfamiliar floor in search of a missing shoe or dropped key.
4). Power cords & extra electrical adapters
Hotel rooms often have one main electrical outlet for a television and sometimes one in the bathroom. The hotel may have extra adapters, but not knowing the condition of their equipment could quite easily damage your precious electronics and it’s not worth the risk. Keeping electronics isolated to one area also decreases the risk of accidentally leaving something behind.
Temporary workspace/desks are often designed to double as a kitchenette with lots of potential for unfortunate accidents. Keeping that electric tea kettle away from your electronics and important documents could save you heartache later.
Moving the electric tea kettle to the bathroom is a great solution, but the electrical outlet location is usually designed for hair dryers and electric shavers and other cords don’t always reach. You can sometimes make a shelf with extra rolls of toilet paper, but it’s easier just to bring along an extra extension cord just in case.
Bandanas are like mini sarongs with endless possibilities of usefulness. Sweat rag, napkin, suitcase ID, and yes in a pinch it can be used as emergency toilet paper. That may sound gross, but they wash out easily and dry quickly, and one never knows when nature will call with an urgent message.
6). Tupperware type container & reusable eating utensils
Street food and night markets are an excellent source for inexpensive food, but eating noodles out of a plastic bag or sitting on the curbside isn’t always convenient. In fact it can lose its romance quite quickly after you’ve done it a few times. I prefer taking it away and it may even become a staple in my mini fridge if my room is so blessed.
You’ll also find that Southeast Asia convenience stores usually have a huge selection of instant noodle packs and they can make for a quick, cheap and easy-to-store snack option in the middle of the night. Having a bowl on hand can be quite handy!
Not only is a piece of rope an instant clothesline for drying clothes, sometimes there is actually no closet or hooks to hang clothes up. And yes I’ve had to stack my clothes on sandy floors before… It can also be a nice curtain rod if you are given a room with a not-so-private window or balcony at your hotel.
This magical piece of material has endless possibilities so I recommend packing two or more, if you can spare the space. They can be used as an easy dry towel; blanket or bed sheet; shawl-type coverall to cover bare arms or even add a bit of warmth on a chilly night; long skirt or dress; curtain or privacy screen; table cloth or blanket for a sandy tropical beach. And remember, there are plenty of sandy tropical beaches in Southeast Asia!
Dannielle Lily says
These are really great tips – I always forget to bring a torch and taking tupperware would make eating in SE Asia even cheaper!
Vanessa Workman says
Thanks Dannielle! I now have a survival ‘kit’ pre-packed so I don’t forget anything anymore, because I swear if I forget to bring it it’s a guarantee that I’ll need it. :D
I guess one important item travelers have to bring in these parts of the world is wet wipes since toilets in Southeast Asia are “wet” i.e. people use water instead of toilet rolls to clean themselves.
Unless if you’re the adventurous type! :P
Vanessa Workman says
Yes Dan that’s another great tip! I forgot that one. Maybe that’s why Guardian seems to have those handy wipe specials all the time.. buy 3 get 2 free. Much better than tiny tissues. Sure feels refreshing to wipe a sweaty face and dirty hands off too. I read somewhere the other day that they are useful for quick water-less ‘baths’ also. :D
Pam Hill says
Dental floss is high on my list. Can be used as a clothes line, curtain rail, emergency repair for rucksacks and cases, to reattach buttons, tie back hair, tie lens caps to binoculars, and, oh, cleaning between your teeth.
Vanessa Workman says
That’s a great tip Pam, thanks! I’ve never heard that one before and I sure wouldn’t have thought of it. Going to add that emergency travel stash.
Good tips! I take one extra item besides most of these and that’s a small stainless steel scissors. You never know when you need one. Oh, and a small sewing kit is very handy too. The kind that have a safety pin for emergency clothes mishaps >.<"
Vanessa Workman says
Thanks Janice! Small scissors and sewing kit also a good tip. I think I’m going to update this post with extra suggestion like this one.